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2007 was the year the marketing industry lost itself—thanks to its desire to win. At least that's the view from down under, according to Sydney-based marketing creative, Jonathan Kneebone
Australian advertising had a great year a couple of years back. Somehow or other it managed to steal a march on the rest of the world by doing work that helped to redefine the term "multimedia."
As ours is an outdoor culture, it made sense—and not just financially—to talk to people outside of their homes. By saving on the big budgets required not only to run, but also to make, TV commercials, suddenly every other media owner was enjoying a field day at the networks' expense. Hence the rise of the ambient, integrated, outdoor, interactive stunt. And hence the rise of Australia's standing in the Gunn Report (a global list purporting to quantify success by counting up awards won).
I wouldn't go so far as to say Australia has tired of this approach since those heady days. Rather, the desire to cross-pollinate every media form has become a sign of an agency desperately trying to win a Titanium award (for work in "nontraditional" media at the Cannes Advertising Festival), rather than an agency that's aiming to serve its particular client base well.
Original Work Overshadowed
Now that every agency the world over has worked out how to make it look as if they've done campaigns that are so ridiculously multi- in their multimedia-ness, we're at a stage where the pressure is back on the idea rather than the number of channels into which it can fit. But while concepts are plentiful and voluminous, genuinely original communication remains very thin on the ground.
At the judging of various advertising events this year—from Clio to D&AD, from AWARD to Young Guns and AdFest—it became clear that 2007 was the year no one really knew what to do next—particularly the multinational agencies. And the desire to win awards and recognition and make a name for your agency ended up eating the whole industry alive.
I did find some pieces of work to be genuinely breakthrough, such as Crispin Porter's First Act guitar promotion for VW, Ground Tokyo's Freedom Project for Nissin Cup Noodle, or indeed the Axe Deodorant Gamekillers campaign we directed for BBH New York (BusinessWeek.com, 12/21/06). But the campaigns finding new ways to talk to people were overshadowed by campaigns that quite simply harked back to a time when agencies entered work the client had probably never even seen.
Trying to Impress Award Juries
It was difficult to imagine that in 2007 the industry would be so besotted with winning awards that virtually all the large agency groups would resort to mucky tactics to try and prove themselves better than the next. Creating work that clients have not really approved or had a hand in, or that has been altered specifically to con award juries, is truly a case of biting the hand that feeds.
It is proof perhaps of how difficult and complicated it is to do genuinely original integrated work when your agency structure is at best antiquated—that it seems mostly everyone has just given up and decided to reinvent history.
What I mean by this is that the structure of agencies hasn't really changed in 50-something years. The financial overhead of a creative department means the output of most agencies will still be the quick turnaround print ad or 30-second TV spot.
It is simply too costly to have a creative team spending three months writing a book or dedicating a year to making long-form televisual content. So to make themselves seem up to speed, agencies are starting to get creative with their award entries. In my watching 250 integrated entries at Clio (the annual awards celebrating creativity and innovation in advertising), it became apparent agencies are making up success stories to bedazzle juries.
The Independent Way
Every entry has the "Web going wild," "blogs being blitzed," "phone lines getting jammed," and "audiences falling over themselves" to get involved in ideas that are quite frankly so lame, the only people who would possibly have got involved were agency staffers.
Everyone wants to be recognized for work so good it's unreal. It's wanting to be recognized for work that actually isn't real that's the issue.
Australia, at least, is embracing the fact creative departments can exist and make a living outside of the traditional agency structure. There are now at least a dozen creative independent companies—not just ourselves at Glue Society (we turn 10 next year) but Day&Age, Three Drunk Monkeys, 12.20, Southpaw, Happy Soldiers, Bulldozer—all benefiting from the liberation that comes with separation from the agency structure.
The freedom is not just symbolic from a geographic or economic perspective. By being separate from the agency system, creative people actually are free to spend their time turning ideas into realities in whatever media is most appropriate. It could be staging a global event, it could be making a dozen short films, it could be something no one's done before.
And perhaps this might be the next way Australia plays the role of pioneer. With luck, this time, it will lead to a more genuine improvement in the creative output of the industry.